By Sreeparna Chakrabarty
New Delhi, March 25 (IANS) NCP chief Sharad Pawar has waded into a controversy for asking his supporters to remove the indelible ink mark and vote twice in the coming Lok Sabha election. But makers of the ink say it cannot be erased so quickly and those who try to do so with chemicals may end up burning their fingers.
According to C. Harakumar, marketing manager of Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited (MPVL), which will supply 2.2 million vials (of 10 ml each or 22,000 litres) for the election, the mark just cannot be “erased”.
“If the voters try to remove the ink through any chemical concoction they might end up burning their fingers,” Harakumar told IANS on the phone from Bangalore.
The company, a Karnataka government undertaking, is the sole manufacturer of the indelible ink, popularly known as voter’s ink, which has been used in elections since 1962 to avoid fraudulent or multiple voting and malpractices.
“Once applied the ink mark remains on the finger for a few months, thus preventing the voter from casting his vote again. And this is because no chemical, detergent or oil can remove the ink from the finger,” Harakumar noted.
The ink contains silver nitrate, which stains the nail on exposure to ultraviolet light, leaving a mark that is impossible to wash off and fades as new nail-growth occurs.
Perhaps Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was not aware of this fact when he remarked to party workers in Mumbai on Sunday that they should vote once in their native place and then a second time in their work place.
When political parties slammed his remark, Pawar backtracked, saying it was made in “jest.” But the Election Commission immediately took note of it.
According to former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami, “The ink is very reliable.”
Speaking to IANS over phone from Chennai, Gopalaswami said that approximately one vial is used in each polling station, of which there are nearly 900,000 across the country. Each booth has 900-1,000 voters.
Harakumar said the 2.2 million vials to be supplied for the Lok Sabha poll was higher than the two million supplied during the 2009 elections.
A senior poll panel official told IANS that the Bangalore-based company specializes in manufacturing quality indelible ink in association with the Election Commission, the National Physical Laboratory and the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC).
It is the sole authorized supplier of this type of ink in India with an exclusive licence granted by the NRDC.
The MPVL was established in 1937 by the late Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the then maharaja of Mysore, as the “Mysore Lac and Paint Works Ltd”. In 1989, it was renamed “Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd.”
Apart from supplying ink during elections in India, the firm has been exporting the product to 28 countries across the world since 1976.
The countries include Afghanistan, Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, Nepal, Ghana, Papua-New Guinea, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Togo, Sierra Leone, Malaysia, the Maldives and Cambodia.
“Though we supply ink to various countries, India is the biggest consumer,” Harakumar told IANS.
In India, the ink is dabbed on with a stick, but is applied differently elsewhere.
While in Cambodia and the Maldives voters dip a finger into the ink, in Burkina Faso and Burundi, the ink is applied with a brush.
In Turkey it is applied with nozzles and in Afghanistan with pens.
Last year, the Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd earned Rs.4 crore ($659,000) from ink exports.
(Sreeparna Chakrabarty can be contacted at sreeparna.c@iansin)